After a time of great trial in my marriage, my husband and I were talking in a small group with some friends. We shared how God’s presence had been so evident in the midst of our crisis.
Great suffering opened our eyes to the enormity of God. And, His presence had never been so real.
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. -CS Lewis
As we were talking about this, someone protested by saying,
“What if I haven’t experienced a major crisis? What if no one close to me has died or has a disease or I haven’t experienced any tragedies? Does that mean that I can’t experience God like you have?”
I remember my answer,
“Well, no, God wants everyone to have a close relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced suffering, loss or tragedy. God wants everyone to experience His presence.”
Looking back, I realize the naivete in my response.
If I were asked that same question today, I would have a much different answer.
Does a person need to go through peril, danger, crisis, pain or suffering in order to really see God and feel His presence in the most profound way?
I think the answer is yes. Crisis and tragedy in life can take the scales off our eyes so we can truly see Him. There is something about the presence of God in the midst of great trial or suffering that we can’t get in the midst of comfort.
You might say that seems unfair. Pain and suffering are not equally distributed among us. Many of the awful things that happen in this life are seemingly accidental or random.
To that I would respond by asking this question.
‘Are you living like Christ did, or are you comfortable?’
The other path to experiencing God in the most profound way is to suffer in serving. You may not necessarily have experienced tragedy or crisis in your own life, but when you serve others, you can experience it second hand.
Loving and serving others is the very picture of Christ. And, people who live like Christ WILL experience more of Him than people who don’t.
God promises us in scripture that if we follow Him 1) we will suffer, and 2) He will always be with us.
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Psalm 23:4
Being with the lepers, ministering to the lowly and unclean, loving and feeding the poor, visiting those in prison and walking where there is great danger and great need was Christ’s ministry on earth.
If you walk with lepers, minister to the lowly and unclean, love and feed the poor, and walk where there is great danger and great need, you WILL experience the overwhelming power and presence of Jesus Christ. And, most likely you will suffer.
If you don’t do those things, you may or may not.
I mentor a young mother of three kids and her boyfriend who live in the inner city.
When I began doing this, I was uncomfortable. Having always lived in the suburbs, the downtown neighborhoods scared me. Being the minority didn’t feel good. And, I didn’t understand the culture. I very much felt like a fish out of water.
Even though the city is only 30 minutes from where I live, it is a completely different world.
I would pray on the way to pick them up because I didn’t and still don’t know entirely what God is doing with this family. I didn’t have the right words to say. I wasn’t a social worker or a psychologist. And, on the way home I would wonder, ‘Am I making a difference? Am I doing anything at all?’
My husband got involved as well to help the boyfriend finish school and get a job. There were many evenings when he and I would be in our kitchen talking about this couple.
Whenever I am downtown whether it is in government assisted apartment buildings, the WIC office, the social security office, or the hospital in the ‘bad side of town’, I am in the midst of the poor, the oppressed and the needy. I am in the midst of parolees, thieves, domestic violence perpetrators, and drug users. I am among the lost. And, this is exactly where Jesus would want me to be.
Being in a hopeless, depressing, and dangerous environment is unpleasant. It’s burdensome. But, we are called to love and care for the hopeless, the depressed, and even the dangerous.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:35,36,40
My point is that it is hard. I wouldn’t dare say that this constitutes pain and suffering for me. But it is one small example of how we should be putting ourselves where Jesus would be. It is an example of going into the mess with the ‘messy’, and suffering with those who suffer.
Who did Jesus spend much of His time with? Where was He during His ministry on earth?
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32
My sister-in-law goes to Africa two or three times a year to do ministry for women in Zambia. They love and care for women and children who, without this ministry, would not be loved and cared for.
The more trips she goes on, the harder it is to return to the states. She feels deep sympathy for the people of Africa she has to leave behind. And, she has become ‘different’ as a result of following Christ to help the needy, and therefore, experiences loneliness and isolation when she comes back.
She has allowed God to break her heart for what breaks his. And, she is often heartbroken.
Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6
We are to be a light in the darkness, which means that we sometimes have to GO TO the darkness in order to be the light. The light shines the brightest in the darkest places.
“let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
As we go into these dark places, He will make His presence known. God will always be with us . . . . . always! And, if we follow God where He leads, His glory will blow us away!